Review: Apple's LED Cinema Display a boon for Mac laptop users

Apple's new display is more than a gorgeous 24-in. monitor; it's a de facto docking station

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De facto docking station

Equally welcome is how the high-quality display becomes a de facto docking station for Apple laptop users. Setup is easy. Plug in the display, then plug in the connector cable. The cable splits three ways, offering a MagSafe connector that charges your laptop when you're using the display, a USB connector and the aforementioned Mini Display connector for video.

The introduction of the Mini DisplayPort connection is both good and bad. It's good in that it feeds plenty of video bandwidth from a very small port, so that even the entry-level $1,299 MacBook can drive the new 24-in. LED display at its full 1,920-by-1,200 pixel resolution. (In fact, it can even drive Apple's mammoth 30-in. Cinema Display at 2,560-by-1,600 pixels -- as long as you have the $99 Dual-Link DVI adapter offered by Apple. That adapter has not yet shipped.)

Video from the laptop is transmitted through the Mini DisplayPort cable right. The other cable is for USB.
Video from the laptop is transmitted through the Mini DisplayPort cable (right); the other cable is for USB.

But it's bad because right now the only laptops that can connect to the new display are the latest MacBooks, the 15-in. MacBook Pro and the revised MacBook Air. Although there are adapters available to connect the new laptops to older Apple displays -- the adapters cost either $29 or $99, depending on the type of connection you need to make -- there aren't any that could be used to connect older Mac hardware to the new LED display. That means owners of the 17-in. MacBook Pro and Apple's Mac Pro desktop machines are out of luck because those machines don't have Mini DisplayPorts -- yet.

I expect this mismatch to be rectified soon. Keep an eye on next month's MacWorld Expo for updated hardware that includes the new Mini DisplayPort -- maybe even a full revamp of the rest of Apple's older display line. Apple's 20-in. and 30-in. displays haven't yet been updated with either the Mini DisplayPort connector or LED backlighting. I have no way of knowing whether Apple will update its hardware accordingly, since Apple doesn't talk about upcoming products. But it makes sense for the company to do so.

USB connection offers room to grow

The USB connector is particularly useful when connecting a MacBook Air to the display because the laptop only has one USB port. Since the display has three powered USB ports on the back, it can also serve as a USB hub for peripherals -- and it'll even charge your iPhone or iPod when they're connected.

I used one of the ports on the display to connect to a USB hard drive that I use for backups, and another to connect to the USB SuperDrive that's an optional accessory for the Air. Both came to life as soon as I plugged the Air into the monitor, and Apple's backup software Time Machine immediately began backing up my data just as if I'd hooked up the external drive directly to the laptop.

The new display's three USB 2.0 ports are located on the back.
The new display's three USB 2.0 ports are located on the back.
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